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Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt: Death

Although Roosevelt never faded from the public eye and never lost his radicalism, he spent the last years of his life responding to history instead of making it. He nursed the wounds from his 1912 defeat by going on an expedition to Brazil, where he almost lost his life. He continued to write and speak, and appreciated the public's attention. Although he campaigned for Bull Moose candidates, the party couldn't survive Roosevelt's electoral loss in 1912. Under Wilson the Democrats repositioned themselves to court the Progressive vote, while the Republicans meted out harsh punishment to Bull Moose defectors, effectively dooming the party's future.

Besides, within a couple years, the entire country's attention had shifted to Europe. On 28 June 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed by a Serbian terrorist in Sarajevo. Within months, an entangling system of alliances plunged all of Europe into war. The Great War, later known as World War I, would be the most devastating military conflict the world had yet seen. Next to that, the Bull Moose Party's domestic reform agenda seemed completely irrelevant.

Roosevelt still found a place in the national conversation, though. T.R. had always called for war, and this war was no different. Reading about the atrocities committed by the Turks in Armenia and the Germans in Belgium moved him to rage. The United States, he argued, had a moral duty to intervene, to put an end to such barbarity. When Wilson passed censorship laws to control the press, T.R. fought them, but only so that he could keep criticizing the administration for failing to go to war. When Wilson finally did ask Congress for a declaration of war, in 1917, T.R. immediately sent his sons off to the front lines, to lead in the fight their father was too old for.

If T.R. had lived long enough, he might have made one last return to politics. By 1917, his insistent criticism of the administration's preparation for war had made him the de-facto leader of the wartime opposition. The political boss John King, eager to see a Republican back in power, had even started planning T.R.'s candidacy in 1920. History, however, wasn't to allow it. In July, Roosevelt learned that his youngest son had been killed in combat; three months later he learned he'd lost his nephew, too. The news sapped T.R.'s motivation. His health, never quite recovered after his near-death experience in Brazil, soon took a turn for the worse. On Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, World War I ended... and T.R. was rushed in ambulance to the hospital, then kept there for six weeks. He was released back to his family for Christmas morning to spend the holidays at home. It was to be his last New Year. Two weeks later, on 6 January 1919, after putting the last touches on some articles about postwar reform for The Metropolitan Magazine, Theodore Roosevelt went to sleep, and never woke up again.

News of Roosevelt's death sent the whole country into mourning. T.R.'s stature was already great, and, after his death, it only grew greater. He was remembered, even in his time, as a visionary with a peculiarly moral orientation. As the NAACP's eulogy put it: "With the passing of THEODORE ROOSEVELT passes the world's greatest protagonist of lofty ideals and principles. Take him all in all he was a man, generous, impulsive, fearless, loving the public eye, but intent on achieving the public good. . . . We mourn with the rest of the world as is fitting, but there is too in our sorrow a quality peculiar and apart. We have lost a friend. That he was our friend proves the justice of our cause, for Roosevelt never championed a cause with was not in essence right."11

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